Plato as Author: The Rhetoric of Philosophy

By Ann N. Michelini | Go to book overview

TO HEAR THE RIGHT THING AND TO MISS
THE POINT: PLATO_S IMPLICIT POETICS
Michael Erler

1. The unity of the creative poet and the reflective scholar is an important feature of Hellenistic poetry.1 The poems, for instance, of Callimachus reflect upon the rules of creating poems, and at the same time illustrate the application of these rules: practicing the craft and reflecting on it go together.2 Of course, this combination is not new with the Hellenistic poets. Long before, Homer and Hesiod were their own interpreters. And this also is true of lyric poets like Pindar or tragic poets like Euripides. They too combine the craft of poetry with reflection. Their poems contain what one could call a kind of “implicit poetics.”3 The rhapsodes in turn continued the selfinterpretation of the poets without being creative themselves. The Sophists were their heirs to the extent that they were interpreters of poetry for their purposes. Finally, the Attic philosophers, and foremost the Peripatetics completed this development. Plato and Aristotle integrated poetics into the curricula of their schools. Viewed against this background, the self-reflection of Hellenistic poets like Philetas or Callimachus looks more traditional in its combination of theory and practice. Or so the story about emancipation and reunification of poetical theory and practice goes, a story that Rudolf Pfeiffer tells so masterfully in his History of Classical Scholarship.4 In what follows I shall not attempt to challenge this analysis. I shall try, however, to modify it in one respect. My main thesis will be that Plato's dialogues play a special role in this scenario.5

There can be no doubt that the dialogues prove Plato to be a creative author indeed, turning a popular genre, the sôkratikoi logoi,

____________________
1
I would like to thank Gretchen Reydams-Schils for turning what I thought was English into an, I hope, at least readable version, and Allan Silverman for helpful comments. A French version of this essay appeared in Fattal 2001, 55–86; a reworked German version appeared in Jain 2001, 123–42.
2
Cf. Fuhrer 1992, 252ff.; Asper 1997.
3
Nünlist 1998, 1ff., 329ff.
4
Pfeiffer 1968, 3ff.
5
I hope to deal with this elsewhere soon.

-153-

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